Monday, May 2, 2011

Crisis Fatigue

Where I work, we occasionally have small discussion groups called “Difficult Dialogues”, which are open to employees and students alike to attend. There is always a specific topic – something that isn’t super easy to talk about – and they’re considered a time when you should be free to share your thoughts without fear of judgment.

One I went to last year was on the topic, “What Are the Conditions of Your Giving?”

We talked about what what conditions must be met before we give our time and resources to people in need. For example, what reasoning do we go through in our mind to decide if we’re going to give cash to a panhandler? What about to charitable organizations, or disaster relief situations? What prompts us to give to some and not others? What must the recipients do, or do for us, in order for us to give? It was a really thought-provoking discussion. We talked about how we feel about panhandling (very common in Chicago), whether we give anything to those who ask. Who we don’t give to and why. What we give (money, food, discussion, cards with info about shelters, etc).

One thing we talked about quite a bit, that I hadn’t really thought of as being related to this topic, was going through fatigue. Giving fatigue, crisis fatigue, save-the-world fatigue.

This discussion happened sometime after the February 27th, 2010 Chile earthquake. How do I know this? Because we talked about how after the Haiti earthquake (from January 2010) received such news coverage and we all felt so heartbroken and tied to that event. We all gave money and helped raise money and talked about Haiti. It was in the news, you couldn’t get away from it.

But then just 6 weeks later, a massive earthquake happened in Chile and there was mass destruction and loss of life as well. And the world – we – didn’t respond the same way.

Some of us in the room said that we had a personal connection to Haiti, and we think that’s why we responded so strongly to Haiti and not to Chile. But most of us agreed that we were experiencing fatigue. We couldn’t handle seeing any more images of devastation. We couldn’t seem to find the motivation to get out and fundraise again, so soon after Haiti. We were ready for lighter things like funny movies and focusing on our families and going about our normal lives. We were just worn out from all the heartbreak and didn’t have the energy or motivation to go through it again.

We examined this a few ways, but I’m bringing it up now because I see it happening again.

If you’ve been following my blog awhile, you know that I’ve been involved in raising some money for the Red Cross to benefit relief efforts in Japan after their huge earthquake & tsunami. I got really involved in those efforts, and I got involved in the Handmade With Purpose blog’s efforts, and I got involved with the Emergency Fund, who I’m donating some of my shop proceeds to.

And then, tornadoes started developing across the Southern U.S. (article & video in that link from

I was raised in Wichita, KS – we have tornadoes every year and there’s always some damage. Every few years, a major tornado causes horrible damage & takes lives, somewhere in our region in Kansas, Oklahoma, sometimes Arkansas or Missouri. So this is the sort of thing I personally know pretty well and feel a strong connection to. Normally, I would be ALL OVER drumming up participation in some sort of fundraiser or putting together lists of orgs you can donate to, sharing info about the individuals who are doing small but important things on their own to help.

But I haven’t. I’m worn out. I don’t know what the official name for this is, but I have crisis fatigue. And I feel guilty about it.

I know that the world’s problem resolution doesn’t reside on my shoulders alone, and that I can’t be expected (by myself or anyone else) to give over-the-top energy and work to every important cause that presents itself. But I still feel sad that I’m . . . not more sad.

Have any of you experienced this? I’m sure you have, I imagine it to be a really universal thing. I suppose I want to explain why I haven’t jumped on this . . . and why I won’t be able to jump on every crisis that happens. Even the ones that might have a more personal connection to my life.


Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I think it's easier to give after Christmastime--we're more flush with goodwill towards men. And I do think we get exhausted, shelling out left and right for various crisis situations. When am I most likely to give? When I'm most directly involved with the person, cause or idea.

Caro said...

I understand what you're saying. There will be times in which we must choose who to help, and in this case there is one thought that gives me comfort: If I can understand that we are all one, united under the sun, does it matter who I help?
When we help one heal we heal us all.

Don't be so hard on yourself, you've done grand things. Big hugs!

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